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Jason Explores Bolivia / Sorata


About four and a half hours by bus from La Paz is the hiker's paradise of Sorata. The road to Sorata takes you up over the lip of the great land depression of La Paz and onto the high altiplano – a mind boggling 14,000 foot flat expanse that stretches across much of northern Bolivia.  Marking the edge of the Altiplano is the massive snow-capped Cordillera Real mountain range whose jagged blade cuts the high plain from the lower, steamy Yungas to the East (where Coroico sits). The road winds around the East edge of bright blue lake Titicaca before climbing up the foothills of the Cordillera Real and plunging down nearly 4,000 over several miles of winding, pothole landmines and a thick carpet of beige dust to the palm-tree and flowerbed plaza of sleepy Sorata. 

The town of Sorata hugs the side of a large hill in the shadow of  the 21,000 foot Illampu and
Janq’uma peaks. One or both of these peaks is visible looming over the town to the South from most places in town. Janq' uma

Our hiking party consisted of three Austrians from Linz; Didi, Andy, and Gaby. Our goal: reach the highest altitude any of us had ever been too – Laguna Glacial (or Lichi-Khota ‘milky-white lake’ in Aymara) at 5,130 meters.  After much discussion with everyone from professional guides in Sorata to other hikers just returned from the mountain, we decided to spend both of the nights of our

three-day trek at Laguna Chillata (or Khotapata “high lake” in Aymara) at 4,200 meters and go there-and-back to the high Laguna Glacial during day two. Laguna chillata at dusk

We got a late start after a hearty breakfast of Goulash and Meusli in Sorata’s gringo-oriented Altai restaurant (the owner Roxanne has a great collection of world music to set the ambiance) and headed upwards out of Sorata towards the towering twin-peaks framing the glacial lake that was our ultimate goal. Half an hour outside of Sorata we had an uninterrupted view of the two peaks and the saddle between them. In about six hours of walking we were safely lost in the mountains about 4 kilometers from our first night camp spot. Luckily, as we argued amongst ourselves about which way to go, along came American Tom and British Charlie with a young local guide Pedro.  Tom and Charlie were also headed for Laguna Chillata (Khotapata) and had noticed their error when they found themselves near a mine shows on their map as about two hours walk off course.  Their guide, fourteen-year-old Pedro, confidently walked past in his soccer tee-shirt and sandals up the mountain towards the lake with his charges and now also our party in tow. Within about one hour we were all safely huddled shivering around

Laguna Chillata heating water and discussing terms with Pedro for employing his expert services the following day. He agreed to guide Camino a laguna chillata
the six of us up to Laguna Glacial (Lichikhota) for about US $1 each.

The next morning was brilliantly sunny and by 10 AM we were steadily trudging up the mountain towards our first landmark: the high pass (la apacheta).  After a breathless siesta on the windy pass we continued on along the stark talus

slope towards Titisani mine, a stark talus slope spilling out of the increasingly jagged and rocky landscape around us.  Camino a Titisani

All around us you could see the Earth in action as rocks of different colors and sharpness jutted out of the slopes like fingers pointing to the snowy massif towering above. After several breathless hours of climbing in the thin air we arrived near the edge of the 1.5 mile wide saddle between the two peaks. Thinking back to my experience near the same altitude on the Choro trek I could not help but observe how much harder it is to go UP at this altitude than DOWN. When we finally moved up over the crest into the saddle's starkly white and gray  world (devoid of plant life other than green, red and  white lichen) we got our first look at the milky blue glacial lake shining in the midday sun..  We had reached our goal. We sat and ate a quick lunch, snapped some photos of the glacier, and weakly observed that it was recommendable to head down as soon as possible to avoid altitude sickness. We were all so disoriented that we forgot to look at what makes this spot so famous: the ability to see from one spot both the immense blueness of Lake Titicaca and the broad undulating jungle of the Yungas at the edge of the Amazon. 

Lago Titikaka Lago Titikaka

We all observed bright blue lake Titicaca on the way up but I do not think anyone even thought to look over at the Yungas once we were on top. On the way down I walked ahead with Pedro and he thought me some taboo words in Aymara. Hearing me repeat these words in combination with some of the adjectives I had already learned had both of us in fits of laughter – this is just the kind of potty-humor that gets me in stitches and Pedro (due to his age – I don't have that excuse) was on the same wavelength..  When we got back to camp we thanked Pedro for his work as guide and he departed for home.  Before he left he requested that I provide him with a picture of him

that I had taken at Laguna Glacial – I think he wanted to use this picture to break into the guiding business back in Sorata. Pedro y Jason en la apacheta

Early on the morning of the third day, I woke up and walked around Laguna Chillata looking for some pre-Inca ruins Roxanne (the co-owner of Altai) had told us about. At the opposite end of the lake from where we camped a huge triangular mountain just out of the ground pointing sharply towards Janq´uma´s peak. As I approached the walled base of this mountain it became evident 

that it was covered with squat ruins hanging precariously on the sharply inclined slope. Ruins

In the early morning twilight frost I slowly worked my way up the slope to the top, grabbing tufts of long, spiky grass for safety as I went. The whole peak appeared to be some sort of large altar – the previous inhabitants possibly having taken advantage of this natural feature pointing straight at snowy Janq´uma to honor the natural forces around them. Some archeologists theorize that at the time these ruins were built the glacier that now crouches high above (and out of sight) at the edge of Laguna Glacial once extended all the way down to just below where I was standing. I decided to wait for the sunrise to reach this spot and took this opportunity to do some Yoga and stretching. When I later descended to meet up with my somewhat frustrated hiking party (I had not told them where I was going and I was gone for almost two hours!)  I found Tom and Charlie were ready to go and had chosen their route.  They went ahead and my party waited for me to finish packing. Tom and Charlie went down the way we had come up and our party chose to head directly down the wide sweeping fields tilting towards Sorata on the horizon. On the way down we passed bleating flocks of sheep, lazily munching cows, small adobe buildings baking in the sun, and a traditionally dressed elderly couple leading three shaggy donkeysalong the path.

El adobe Casa tipica cerca Sorata

One PM found us sitting in the town plaza in Altai eating Goulash when Tom and Charlie straggled in the door looking surprised and exhausted. We all celebrated by going out that night to the town center to try each of the six burger stands on the plaza (to see which one of the ladies put together the best thin patty and greasy papas combo).  Note: this is about as good as the nightlife gets in a town where most travelers are getting to bed early to gear up for the next day's hike

Aymara Lesson Number 3

  • Cuna hora hesa? – What time is it

  • Ya tunc hora hewa – It is nine o'clock

  • Ma´qata a-ut hito – I am hungry

  • Uma munta – I am thirsty

  • Alojamiento nehwa? – Do you have a place I can stay for the night?

  • Laya tacuasca… – I am looking for...

  • Lichi Khota-kh Hiwakiwa – Glacier Lake (Lichi Khota) is beautiful

  • Cow cas takiha Sorata? – Where is the path to Sorata?

  • Sarjawa – Goodbye

  • Jacintuchakh ikeskiwa – Jacinto is sleeping

  • Jacintuchakh hiwata – Jacinto is dead

  • Alpacho – Alpaca

  • Carua – Llama

  • Anu – Dog

  • Arrue – Adobe




1. First Impressions
2. Choro Trek
3. La Paz-Going Deep
4. Sorata

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